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South Korea Cemeteries

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Traditional Korean belief values dying at home. If the person has died in the hospital, it is considered a misfortune to bring that person's body back to the home. However, death at home includes keeping the body present for at least several hours for viewing and showing respect. Korean-Americans are more accustomed to reserving a place in the home where pictures of the deceased may be looked upon. Cremation is typically performed on those who do not have relatives and their ashes are usually dispersed over a body of water. Respect for the dead is shown by an outward display of grief which is expressed through moaning and rituals with crying. It is an obligation of the eldest son to remain near the deceased and to moan to display his emotion. He must also hold a cane to signify his need for emotional support during this time.

The Seoul National Cemetery is located in Dongjak-dong, Dongjak-gu, Seoul, South Korea. When established by presidential decree of Syngman Rhee in 1956, it was the country's only national cemetery. An additional national cemetery was established in 1974 in Daejeon. Both are overseen by the National Memorial Board.

The cemetery is reserved for Korean veterans, including those who died in the Korean independence movement, Korean War, and Vietnam War.

In 2005 more than one Korean who died in two chose to be cremated. And the number is expected to grow. The authorities are trying to cope with the trend. The Catholic Church, is trying to adapt to the new situation. In many parishes, cineraria are replacing traditional cemeteries.

A shortage of gravesites explains why a growing number of South Koreans are turning to cremation despite a traditional emphasis on burial. According to AsiaNews, more and more people are opting for cremation. In 2006 their number exceeded that of traditional burials for the first time. The government and the Catholic Church, which were initially opposed to the practice, have now decided to meet this growing demand in the population.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that more than half of South Koreans who died in 2005 were cremated, with the country's cremation rate standing at 52.6 percent, up 3.4 percentage points from the previous year. However, the rate of growth has been spectacular. In 1970 it stood only at 10.7 percent, reaching 38.3 percent in 2001. For the past five years, the annual average increase was 3.5 percent. If the trend continues, the cremation rate will exceed 70 percent by 2010.

Cremation rates were highest in cities like Pusan (74.8 percent), Inchon (69 percent) and Seoul (64.9 percent). Figures drop in rural areas like South Cholla Province (27.2 percent), and North Chungchong Province (29.7 percent).

Despite increasing demand, there are however only 46 crematoria nationwide. Cremation facilities in metropolitan areas have been failing to meet demand. Therefore, many [urban] residents use cremation facilities in other regions. But plans for construction of cremation facilities often get scrapped due to protests from residents.

In 2000 the government amended a cremation bill to allocate public funds to build public crematoria. For many years now, the Catholic Church has no longer opposed cremation. And in many Korean dioceses the cinerarium has started to edge out traditional cemeteries.

The burial process involved laying the body on ice for three to thirty days during mourning, placing the body inside an inner and an outer pine coffin, surrounded by the deceased's clothes, and the covering he coffin in a lime soil mixture. In some cases, this inadvertently resulted in extremely good natural mummification.

The building boom in South Korea has meant that many cemeteries have had to be relocated. It is this process which led to the discovery of the mummified bodies.

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